Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Roses and Thorns

            Okay, so let’s walk out the back door of the kitchen into the backyard.  As we leave the house, there is a little rickety porch with rickety stairs leading down to the driveway.  The porch used to be enclosed, but some of the windows blew out in a storm and shattered.  And when it rains, the water drips right through the porch ceiling, so it is bowing and bending and ready to fall in at some point.  And yet, we can’t do anything about it right now because we already have other necessary repairs that we don’t have the money to fix.  But let’s forget about the porch as we carefully step down the rotting stairs, being careful not to wiggle the railing too much because that’s barely holding on, too.
            As we step down onto the driveway, the first thing you might notice is the smell of mint.  I did a big no-no, and I planted some chocolate mint (the best kind of peppermint) in the ground, to the left of the porch as you walk down.  Mint is a known bully.  It will spread like the flu. 

So I had to be careful to make sure that I contained it as much as possible.  And so it’s wedged between the porch, the driveway, and an area where we laid down landscape fabric and rocks to keep the garbage cans on.  So there isn’t much room for it to spread.  But every year, I still have to keep an eye on it and tear up any stray roots that manage to find their way out. 
            The thing is, I don’t even really use the mint for anything but homemade Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.  (You can use it for tea, but I don’t like mint tea.  Maybe floating a few leaves in hot chocolate would be nice, though.)  But it’s just something that I love having.  I love the smell.  And so I am willing to deal with the plant possibly spreading.  Besides, our yard is full of useless Creeping Charlie; so if anything is going to spread, I’d rather it smell good at least.  (FYI, chocolate mint doesn’t taste like chocolate.  Just really strong peppermint.  It gets the chocolate name from the purple-brownish stems.)
            At the bottom of the porch, you’d turn left to go to the backyard.  But straight ahead first is a patch of roses that I put up against the house.  I love coming straight out of the house and smelling roses first thing.  These are my old-fashioned shrubs, the kind that can spread if you’re not careful.  So I put them between the house and driveway so that they have nowhere to spread to. 
            And even then, my Therese Bugnet - a light pink beauty that smells like a rose should -  will reach out wide and throw her long, graceful stems everywhere, spilling out onto the driveway, grabbing any passersby with her vicious thorns.  But every year, I love her more and more.  She’s a hardy one that shakes off our mean winters and seems stronger for it.
            Along the wall with her is Blanc Double de Coubert (a white rose with a more lemony scent) and Rose de Rescht (a deep crimsony-red one, jam-packed with tiny petals).  I’m sure I did another no-no by cramming them too closely together, but I want them to mingle and intertwine and fill that corner with color and fragrance.  (We’ll see if I live to regret it!) 
            These roses are old standbys.  They’re not like the cut roses you’d buy by the dozen in the stores.  They are more delicate looking, more sloppy looking.  And they bloom sporadically in flushes throughout the year.  But they have a charm that the stiffer-looking, perfectly-sculpted roses can’t compete with.  And they have such a nice scent.  (But, oh, are those thorns mean!)
            This rose corner is in honor of my wonderful, 94-year old grandmother.  I didn’t get to meet my grandma till I was 15.  And since then, we’ve been able to see her only about once a year because she’s 6 hours away in the bluffs of Iowa (along with my 100-year old grandpa).  They are two of my favorite people in the world, ones that I wish I could have known better.  I wish I could have learned about her life and about life in general over a plate of chocolate chip cookies at her kitchen table every weekend.  I wish I could have spent holidays with them.  I wish I had grown up really feeling like part of the family.  But I had to cherish them from a distance, due to my parents’ divorce and the 6 hour space between our homes.
            Anyway, in the front of her house, she has three unidentified rose bushes.  A pink one, a white one, and a red one.  And one of my biggest dreams was to be able to take some cuttings of those roses to plant in my own garden.  Not because I wanted the roses, but because I wanted a permanent, beautiful tribute to her in my yard.  I wanted to be able to say, “See those roses.  They belonged to my grandma.”  But I never could get the cuttings to root.  So this is my recreation of her rose garden: a pink one, a white one, and a red one.  And it’s there in honor of her.     
            A little farther down past this corner are a couple more shrubs: Country Dancer, Carefree Beauty, and a climber called Dream Weaver that is attached to a trellis at the back corner of the house.  Dream Weaver is a pleasant-smelling rose that can be seen from the road, its salmony-pink blossoms reaching up past the windows.  Country Dancer and Carefree Beauty are still babies, so I’ll have to see how they turn out.  (I was so particular about the plants I picked that I had these guys shipped in from Florida.  And then a handyman went and stomped on one and broke off one of the few stems it had.  So I’m waiting to see how it fared.) 
            There’s also a lilac nestled in among these roses and a ton of spring-flowering bulbs – grape hyacinths, Dutch hyacinths, Siberian squill, and daffodils.  (I gave up on tulips because the deer will eat every one of them overnight.)  This way I can have a lot of spring color and fragrance before the roses bloom.    
            I carefully researched and chose every rose on my property.  I wanted ones that could easily survive our winters, that required minimum care, that smelled good, that bloomed throughout the season, and that added a somewhat cottage-y, old-fashioned look to the yard.  I don’t care much that these old-fashioned roses cannot survive well as cut flowers (I have other flowers to use for that).  I just love that they provide a long flowering season with minimal effort and with no chemicals.  (I refuse to use chemicals in my yard, if at all possible.) 
            These kinds of roses remind me of me.  I’m not a manicured, polished kind of person.  I’m a relaxed, cottage-y kind of person.  I like things a little loose and carefree.  Maybe it’s because my life feels anything but loose and carefree.  Maybe it’s actually more like I wish I were relaxed and carefree.  Because honestly, I’m always too uptight, reaching for some phantom standard that I can never reach.  I guess I admire that these roses are strong but casual, tough survivors with a graceful delicateness.  Femininity with a core of steel.
            But in taking care of these beauties, I’ve gotten my fair share of cuts.  When I trim the shrubs back or tie up my climbers, I always come away with scratches up and down my arms.  I’ve pricked my fingers more than once and drew blood.  But if we want the beauty of a rose, we have to accept and live with the thorns.
            Some people are so afraid of thorns that they don’t want to plant roses.  And I think that’s sad.  They deprive themselves of the joys because they’re afraid of the pains.  And isn’t that the way it is with life, too?  We are so busy complaining about the thorns that we fail to appreciate the rose. 
            But life is always going to be full of thorns.  Illness, job loss, house problems, interpersonal conflict, obstacles, trials, temptations, fears, doubts, loneliness, etc.  And we can stay back in fear and fail to really engage; or we reach out anyway and grab ahold of life.  We can spend our days grumbling about every scratch we get; or we can stop complaining about the pains and start enjoying the good things.  If we are too afraid of getting hurt, we won’t get close enough to soak up all the blessings.  And when nothing is blooming, we can despair and wallow in misery; or we can wait patiently, knowing that a thorny stem eventually produces a beautiful rose. 
            In life as with my old-fashioned shrubs, there are always going to be more thorns than roses.  But the point is, there will always be roses.  There will always be buds.  Maybe not an abundance or anything, but sporadic flushes of them or just a couple, here and there.  Flowers and buds mixed together among the thorns. 
            And if I want to get the most out of them, I have to notice when a bud finally opens.  I need to stop what I am doing, get close, and linger over the rose.  I need to snuzzle my nose down into one and inhale deep the intoxicating smell.  That’s what makes these otherwise unattractive, thorny, greedy plants valuable.  Take the time to admire the flowers!  Get close enough to enjoy all the blessings!  And every chance you get, stop and smell a rose!                     

My Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Recipe:
(Requires an Ice Cream Maker.  Before starting, chill the bowl and lid in the freezer that you are going to store the finished ice cream in,)
            In a pot on the stove, gently warm 4 cups of the cream of your choice, 1 cup sugar, pinch salt, till sugar is melted.
             (I use 2 cups half and half and 2 cups heavy whipping cream, because 4 cups heavy cream is too rich and 4 cups half and half is too light.)
            Turn off heat and add a couple generous handfuls of mint leaves (rinsed and pat dried).  Make sure mint is submerged.  Cover and let it sit 1 hour.   
            Strain through a strainer to get the leaves out.  Add a dash of vanilla, if desired.  Chill in fridge.  Then church in ice cream maker according to directions. 
            During the last minute of churning, pour in 1 cup of mini chocolate chips or chocolate shavings or chocolate chips that have been chopped up in a food processor.  Spoon into chilled bowl and return to freezer for an hour or more to let it firm up more.  So refreshing on a hot summer day!
            (This is my basic vanilla ice cream recipe, if you take out the mint leaves and chocolate chips.  4 cups cream, 1 cup sugar, dash salt and vanilla.  You can mix this up a ton of ways.  Oreo Ice Cream: churn vanilla ice cream and then add crushed Oreos at the end.  Chocolate Peanut Butter: add ½ cup cocoa powder with the cream, churn, and then drizzle in 1 cup of peanut butter before you transfer it to chilled bowl.  Orange Sherbet: exchange half the cream for orange juice, if I remember correctly.  Or just add a bunch of whatever berries you want to the plain vanilla ice cream, before or after churning depending on your preference, to make a fruity ice cream.  I love my ice cream maker!  It was a Mother’s Day gift that has served us well.)